Thursday, June 10, 2010

Relationship Addiction

¡Hola! Everybody...
Long day for me today and tomorrow. Today I run my day women’s prison workshop and my men’s evening group.

* * *

-=[ Relationship Addiction ]=-

Some of this has some scary implications especially for online relationships…

When I first came into recovery, there was a humorous catch phrase regarding addicts recovering from the “waist down.” This was a reference to the tendency of addicts acting out in different ways. And it is often true that if you put down one addiction, another one pops up somewhere. I was fortunate in that I had a really good guide in my early recovery and he helped me see clearly that addiction wasn’t about a substance, but a process.

Those who have read my 12-step posts, already now that the First Step of Narcotics Anonymous talks about being powerless over our addiction. It doesn’t say alcohol, sex, heroin – it says addiction.

So it makes sense that if you’re not addressing the core issue of addiction, it's going to manifest itself in other ways, relationships being a very easy and seductive lure. I’ve seen people addicted to God, religion, dogma, money -- almost anything under the sun. By far, the biggest issues in the rooms of recovery revolved around relationships. People were coming to and realizing that their relationship patterns were intimately tied to their addictive process. I certainly needed no coaching with regard to my manner of relating. It was easy for me to look at the wreckage of my past relationships and see that I didn’t know jack muthafuckin shit. LOL!

The first time I mainlined heroin, my dick got hard and from then on it was clear that hand-in-hand with drugs, my story involved a series of dysfunctional relationships with women. Drugs and women: the getting and using (and being used) by both. I never thought of myself as a relationship addict, nor do I now, looking back. But I do think I can become one very easily. I also believe that relationship addiction is a huge problem in our society because it is widespread and because very few people acknowledge it.

There are basically two types of relationship addiction. In the first, the person is addicted to having a relationship (let's call it Type I). It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship -- real or imagined. In the second, the person is addicted to a particular person (we’ll call that Type II). In the first type, the person is addicted to the idea, and in the latter, the person is hooked to the person.

A Type I relationship addict is someone who is addicted to the concept of a relationship. I once heard someone share that relationship addicts don’t have relationships, they take hostages. LOL! They relate to their idea of a relationship, and the reality of the other person is irrelevant. Both types are willing to sacrifice almost anything in order to hold on to the illusion of being in a relationship. In fact, in Type I relationship addiction the illusion itself is what provides the fix. For relationship addicts the fantasy or belief that they have a relationship is the mood-changer. The obsession is with the relationship, not with the person. The accepted model of the cycle of addiction holds true for relationship addicts:

Preoccupation: an obsession with a relationship, which has a mood-altering quality to it, and a total absorption in the relationship.

Ritualization: engaging in behaviors that are related to “keeping a relationship” such as losing weight, becoming more attractive with a new hairstyle or wardrobe. Also, ritualized “courting” behavior may be included.

Compulsive Relationship Behavior: Establishing a behavior as soon as possible, discussing and/ or doing “marriage” from zero to sixty or trying in other ways to nail down the relationship and then holding on to dear life.

Despair: the awareness that the “fix” is not working and feeling hopeless and powerless in the face of that awareness.

Type I relationship addicts want a relationship. In their diseased thinking, they have little concern for who or what the person is, they just want someone. They do not perceive a relationship as an evolving process; they don’t check to see things like values and goals match. They just “go for it.” (Gawd! That one hit too close to home! LOL)

The thing is that relationship addicts are great cons. They have developed skills based on their obsession -- creating dysfunctional relationships.

Both types of relationship addicts often have developed skills in the areas of listening, sharing feelings (though not real ones), “being present,” and paying attention that are quite seductive. In fact, because of these skills, relationship addicts are hard to detect (by themselves and others). Relationship addicts have absorbed all the how-to relationship books that flood the market and have probably devoutly practiced all the exercises, becoming experts in the techniques of relationship. Most importantly, relationship addicts use what could be called the “openness” con. They use skills that appear to develop a relationship for manipulation and control. They seem to do the ‘right” thing in relationships. Both types of relationship addicts know and practice social interaction skills but don’t know how to be friends and establish genuine intimacy. In fact, they fear intimacy and are happier with the illusion of intimacy.

Both types of relationship addicts are absolutely terrified of being alone, and when no one else is around, they actually believe they are alone. That’s why they move constantly from one relationship to another. They never take the time to grieve the termination of a relationship and in that way they bring all the baggage of their previous relationship into a new one.

Relationship addicts lie to themselves and others and are controlling in nature. They will lie to themselves and others about the sacrifices they make in order to stay in a relationship and they believe they can make a relationship work through sheer force of will. They will make another person love them through their tenacity and they become increasingly more controlling, blaming, and defensive the more you love them.

Men who are relationship addicts believe that they cannot survive without a woman, and women relationship addicts believe they cannot exist without a man (the same holds true for gay relationship addicts). Persons suffering from this addiction look to the relationship to validate them. They have no concept of establishing an identity on their own, hence they suffer from lack of boundaries.

Relationship addicts are molded by popular culture. For example, taking their cue from popular songs, they believe that suffering and love are connected. They go together -- if you’re not suffering then you’re not in love.

I believe religious institutions and society play a pivotal role in the creation of relationship addiction. Both hold that normal people are in relationships. And much of our society and its moral structures are predicated on that assumption. The church, with its sexual obsession, does not consider people normal until they are coupled. Single persons are a threat to the church community, which revolves around couples and families.

It’s the same within the larger social context. During their development, children are bombarded with popular music and films/ videos that push addictive relationships. In the lyrics they learn they are nothing without a relationship, that relationships move from one crisis to another, and that to be in a relationship means to suffer.

The effects of relationship addiction on our society hasn’t been measured, but it’s just as destructive (if not more) than any substance abuse and probably a lot more widespread. Which makes me wonder the transformation that would occur if whole groups of people began questioning the status quo of church, society, and popular culture and began recovering from relationship addiction.




  1. this blog cut me down to my core, re-assembled me and then cut me down again...I can't believe you wrote this about people. its brilliant!! i mean, i was aware of how i constantly moved from one relationship to the next and when i wasnt satisfied, i broke up with that person, only to find another person that was worse than the first person that i was with. you opened my eyes to what i am in a nutshell and i can say for a fact that i am astonished that you did this.

    were you talking about people you knew/know? or was this a personal outlook upon yourself?

    either way, this is an amazing article/blog. your words are brilliant and very expressive. you are a very intellectual soul.

    i thank you for making me that much more aware of myself, even though it hurt to look in the mirror sometimes.

  2. I have a definite addiction to relationships and sex. I THOUGHT it was the IDEA of a relationship I was addicted to (I have been pretty much constantly looking for a man for the past 7 years, and most only stick around for a short time )one night, or, at the very most, a few months.) But I also have a tendency to be "addicted" or "obsessed" with the idea of a specific person, and these "obsessions" can last years. I have only actually had a relationship with ONE of my obsessions, anf after four years together, when we broke up, my world fell apart around me! I have been trying to win him back for the past seven years though, and find myself comparing every man I meet to this one! It is a horrbible feeling. I do not know if you ever heard of borderline personality disorder, but relationship addiction/obsession is a common component of the illness!

  3. Zappy: part of this blog comes from my own personal experiences and part of it comes from my work with people in my professional capacity. I defeintly think we lieve in a socieity where this happens more often than not. so, we're not alone. LOL

  4. Joanna: I am familiar with BPD and yes, relationship addiction is a common trait. As I stated 9somewhat) in the post, I believe relationship addiciton is more common than we think and I also believe that part of the problem lies in how we socilaize people to think about relationships. However, part of the awakening involves insight, so it would seem you're addressing the issue.

  5. I would be interested in chatting with you.  I am looking to speak with someone who can give me some insight into what's going on with me.   I am not sure I am a love/relationship addict or not, but I do know that I have codependency patterns and tend to be obsessive in my thinking.  I do not engage in stalking behavior, etc.  I value the partner's privacy.

    <span>I tend to always be involved with someone who is emotionally unavailable and too preoccupied with their own interests.

    To say the least, I tend to stay way too long in relationships, and I get really hurt in the process, often feeling let down and betrayed. Trust gets shattered.

    It would be worth mentioning that once I lost my dad (I found him dead in our home of a massive heart-attack one morning when I woke up) my codependency and need to be in a relationship intensified, and I would say this is when my "avoidance" (of my grief) got really bad and lead to addictive tendencies.

    I am here because I want to learn how to build healthier relationships, beginning with the relationship with myself because that's where it starts. </span>

    If you have any insight for me as to whether this is just an abnormal reaction to delayed grief or whether this is indeed something more, please get a hold of me.  You can email me or im me on yahoo at:  Not2bforgot10.


  6. Hi Em! thanks for your open and honest response. It would be difficult to get at the issues you mention (which are all core issues) on the internet. I can only say what worked and works for me. but what was good for me, might not be good for you. I did seek a therapist as part of my recovery process and i would whole-heartedly recommend that as a way to deal with this. These things are not so cut-and-dried and are often connected to a variety of factors, not easily teased out.

    I did post a series of blogs once on co-dependence one of which can be found here:

    I could also suggest good resources if you're looking for a therapist. Personally, I prefer a cognitive approach:

    But, again, all this is highly personal. This is NOT my area of expertise, nor am I doing clincal-type work. though i might be useful as a resource.

    Again, thanks for your willingness and open-mindedness and please know that there is always a path -- one that is gentle and affirming.

  7. <span>"People were coming to and realizing that their relationship patterns were intimately tied to their addictive process."  By the time I realized that had a big problem I was knee deep in kids and a lifestyle that zapped my freedom.  On the other side of the beast called "relationships" I find that I had the children to try to keep the relationships going.  I thought, as many young women do, that having a second child by this last guy would keep him from leaving me.  It did not.  Once he saw the monster in me he booked.  He cut his losses and got the f*** out of dodge.  I don't blame him.  </span>

    <span>At the temple, when I complained to the sensei, he asked me what role did I play in my husband walking out on me.  What role did I play?  Are you kidding?  I was expecting him to do like the Christians I knew did and have some sort of Buddhist equivalent of a prayer circle.  It did not happen.  </span>

    The best thing that happened is that I got off the freaking roller coaster and found myself smack in front of me.  And, there was nowhere else to go.  I got the chance to take a cold hard look in the mirror and could see the root of some of the dysfunction that I was in.  How the past 30 years had been spent running from relationship to relationship in an attempt not to have to feel the insecurity and the pain.  I had done some f'd up shit to keep from being lonely.  Lied to myself that being a real person with emotional vulnerabilities would be attractive to the male gender.  My first couple nights alone in my new house (my house) were very frightening for me.  As a child I slept in the bathtub or on the floor of the locked bathrooom.  As an adult, I just did not feel comfortable sleeping in a house by myself. 

    I had to face myself and my fears and continue to do that everyday.  There is no destiny, only the journey, and I must be ever alert, never neglectful.  The kids keep me away from my practice; but I know that it is there when I get the chance to unite with it.

    Luckily, I got the chance to see the truth about myself before my kids got grown.  Hopefully it is not too late to change their fate.  My parents were younger when they had me; they had not had the chance to wake up yet.  So we suffered (my sister and I) and our children will suffer a bit less, our grandchildren a bit less than that, and so on.

  8. I think there is a fine line between awareness and placing too much of the "balem" on self. one of the things I pay close attention to is the notion that EVERYTHNG is intricately connected. for example, I could be a law-abiding citizien, but if there's an unjust law, or a systemic practice targetting me, then being arrested is not just a matter of looking at "me." "Me," as my practice grows, expands to include not just my ego, or what I percieve as an individual me, but it includes me, my loved ones, my close friends, my community, my country, my world -- ALL of CREATION.

    I guess what i am tryiong to say is that we have to be careful when we adopt practices concieved outside of our culture, for tye come with their own baggage.

  9. For sure.  Once we get away from our own selfishness and delusional, ego-based thinking we do eventually realize that we are one with creation, with everyone.  I guess that I did mean awareness, not just blaming myself.  I really don't know what you mean by "baggage".

  10. Check out my blog.  I am still grappling with the fact that I might be a relationship addict (monogomous).  I am not a "love addict" though; they are different.

    Feel free to contact me:


  11. <span>I was definitely agree and also believe that relationship addiction is a huge problem in our society because it is widespread and because very few people acknowledge it. Will certainly visit your site more often now.</span>

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